Government rallies to retain rural constituencies

MLA Donna Barnett prepares to battle for Cariboo-Chilcotin

Boundaries Commission Act.

Last year, local residents and politicians within the Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo federal riding voiced strong objections when the commission looked at removing much of the South Cariboo to put into an electoral district with Chilliwack.

Now, the Cariboo-Chilcotin and other provincial constituencies are next up for an Electoral Boundaries Commission (EBC) review, which is due in May 2014.

This review will include what electoral maps identify as the “Cariboo-Thompson Region,” consisting of the five electoral districts of Cariboo-Chilcotin, Cariboo North, Fraser-Nicola, Kamloops-North Thompson and Kamloops-South Thompson.

Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett says she’ll go to battle if necessary to keep her constituency intact.

“Here we go again. Every few years, we go through this again. And the mandate, to me, is wrong.”

Every eight years, an EBC reviews the electoral district boundaries and names to ensure each MLA represents about the same number of people.

However, looking at the geography, not just population, is an important consideration that isn’t getting the attention it deserves in these boundary reviews, Barnett explains.

The province is now proposing amendments to the act for consideration next spring, in advance of the review. These are intended to give clear direction to the EMC to preserve the existing electoral districts in northern and rural regions when recommending new boundaries, she says, as well as to maintain the total number (85) across B.C.

“We, as government, will do everything we can to ensure our ridings stay, and particularly in rural British Columbia.”

Otherwise, she says northern and rural constituency boundaries may change, since they are among the largest geographically with the sparsest populations.

An EBC will be formed in May 2014 to make recommendations on the boundaries and names, and is currently required to apply a principle of representation by population where possible.

“They want to go by population, not by geography. So, we have to make sure when the time comes that we make strong presentations and strong representation to the commission, or the judge or whoever it is, on the importance of having rural MLAs in these ridings.”

However, she notes the Cariboo-Chilcotin is an “odd” constituency because of the way some of its boundaries are drawn.

“They could do some boundary amendments there, but let’s not lose Cariboo-Chilcotin.

“Say, for example, they decided [to] take Cariboo-Chilcotin and put it into Kamloops. Certainly, we would lose our rural aspect [in legislature]”

Barnett notes her already “huge” Cariboo-Chilcotin constituency currently spans from 87 Mile to Anahim Lake, including 100 Mile House, Williams Lake and surrounding communities. But, if changes are made based on population, it could be made even larger.

“They say ‘oh, well there are not very many people out there’. There may not be many people out there, but you know those people are just as important and deserve more representation – because of where they live, their access to things – than somebody in downtown Vancouver.”

Barnett explains rural constituencies must remain that way – not be amalgamated with larger cities – in order to keep the focus of representation in Victoria on their unique identity and needs.

Otherwise, she says the rural constituents will be “ignored” in favour of those in metropolitan areas, such as Vancouver.

“Let’s keep rural B.C. where it is today with good representation to government. It will be another uphill battle, but I’ll be at the table fighting.”